Woody Island
Woody Island

New Tensions In The South China Sea: Whose Sovereignty Over Paracels? – Analysis


China’s positioning of a state-owned oil rig in waters near the disputed Paracel Islands has led to increased tensions between China and Vietnam. While this has been seen as another demonstration of Chinese assertiveness, a closer look may tell a different story.

By Sam Bateman

TENSIONS BETWEEN China and Vietnam over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea flared up again on 2 May 2014 when China positioned an oil rig in waters off the disputed Paracel Islands. Vietnam protested this action and sent vessels to disrupt the rig’s operations. China responded by sending more ships to protect the rig. Inevitably with the numbers of opposing vessels in the area, a violent clash occurred on 7 May injuring some Vietnamese personnel and damage to some vessels.

Vietnam has launched a strong diplomatic and public relations campaign to support its position. It appears to be winning the public relations battle with much global commentary supporting its claim that the rig is illegal and painting the situation as yet another example of China’s assertiveness. However, a closer look at the situation suggests that China may be within its rights with the rig. Undoubtedly, however, it could have handled the situation more diplomatically rather than acting unilaterally in a way that inevitably would lead to increased tension.

Locating the rig

The rig is about 120 nautical miles east of the Vietnamese coast, and 180 nautical miles south of China’s Hainan Island. These are the two nearest mainland points from which an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf may unquestionably be measured. Equally importantly, however, the rig is about 14 nautical miles from a small island in the Paracels claimed by China and 80 nautical miles from Woody Island, a large feature with an area of about 500 hectares occupied by China.

Woody Island is indisputably an island under the regime of islands in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and thus entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf. Despite global commentary that suggests otherwise, a negotiated maritime boundary in this area would likely place the rig within China’s EEZ even if reduced weight was given to China’s claimed insular features.

Vietnam claims that because the rig is closer to its mainland coast than to China’s and well inside 200 nautical miles of its coast, it lies within its EEZ and on its continental shelf. Superficially this argument may appear attractive but geographical proximity alone is not an unequivocal basis for claiming sovereignty or sovereign rights. There are many examples around the world of countries having sovereignty over features well inside the EEZ of another, or of EEZ boundaries being established significantly closer to one country than to another.

The sovereignty question

The question as to who has sovereignty over the Paracels is at the heart of the current situation. If Vietnam had sovereignty over the islands, there would be no dispute. However, despite much global commentary suggesting that Vietnam has a case to support its sovereignty claim, closer analysis of the history of the dispute suggests otherwise.

Vietnam’s current claim is seriously weakened by North Vietnam’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracels in 1958 and its lack of protest between 1958 and 1975. A number of governments, including the United States, have explicitly or implicitly recognised Chinese sovereignty over some or all of the islands. China has occupied Woody Island since the end of World War Two. North Vietnamese occupation of that large feature may have significantly affected American operations against North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The US has urged the claimant countries to exercise care and restraint. Against the historical background of American acceptance of China’s sovereignty over Woody Island, it would be hypocritical now for Washington to make any stronger statement that might be seen as supportive of Vietnam’s position.

Where to now?

Previous incidents around the Paracels mainly related to fisheries management issues and China’s arrest of Vietnamese fishing vessels attempting to fish in or near the islands. Undoubtedly Vietnam can make a strong case that its fishermen have traditionally fished in these waters – in much the same way as China claims traditional rights for its fishermen elsewhere in the South China Sea.

Vietnam may well have been better off to agree to China’s sovereignty over the Paracels in return for China conceding traditional fishing rights in the area to Vietnamese fishermen and agreeing to pursue the joint development of marine resources in the waters between the islands and the coast of Vietnam. Unfortunately, however, the two countries have probably passed the point of no return in being able to reach such a negotiated settlement. Vietnam is playing for high odds by endeavouring to muster global and regional support for its position when in fact, it may end up with nothing.

Hard line positions by all the parties to the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea are short-sighted and will inevitably lead to increased tensions and regional instability. There will be ‘losers’ in this approach when potentially all could be ‘winners’ if the parties accepted the need for functional cooperation in managing the sea and its resources. The geographical reality is that straight line maritime boundaries will be impossible to achieve in some parts of the sea, and as a consequence, the sole ownership of resources will also not be possible.

The irony of the current situation is that functional cooperation is not just something that would be nice to have but is an actual obligation under Part IX of UNCLOS covering semi-enclosed waters such as the South China Sea. That obligation has been forgotten while countries continue to assert their unilateral sovereignty claims and risk a ‘win-lose’ outcome.

Sam Bateman is a Senior Fellow in the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is a former Australian naval commodore with research interests in regimes for good order at sea.


RSIS Commentaries are intended to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy relevant background and analysis of contemporary developments. The views of the author/s are their own and do not represent the official position of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU, which produces the Commentaries.

30 thoughts on “New Tensions In The South China Sea: Whose Sovereignty Over Paracels? – Analysis”

  1. Dear Author,

    I am a Vietnamese, and due to that, you may argue that I am a little biased toward Vietnam. However, as a person who cares deeply about the conflicts in South China Sea (SCS), I find that you have jumped to conclusions in a hasty and arbitrary manner, as shown in these points below:

    1. You argued that “Woody Island is indisputably an island under the regime of islands in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and thus entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf. Despite global commentary that suggests otherwise, a negotiated maritime boundary in this area would likely place the rig within China’s EEZ even if reduced weight was given to China’s claimed insular features.”

    My arguments:

    a) Woody Island is NOT indisputably an ‘island’. It can be considered a ‘rock’, and thus not entitled to have its own exclusive economic zone (Article 121(3) in UNCLOS). Scholars hold different views on the legal status of such features as Woody Island.

    b) Even if Woody Island is considered an island and generates its own EEZ, creating an overlap area with the EEZ from Vietnam’s coast, courts and tribunals’ practice is to give a considerably reduced weight to the island when delimiting maritime claims. This practice is right and necessary because it would be absurd for tiny remote islands to have the same maritime boundary as an entire populated coast facing them.

    c) Now, let’s compare the distances: the oil rig is 103 miles from Woody Island (not 80 miles as you said) and 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s coast. With the reduced effect given to the island, it is much more likely that the oil rig’s location would fall within Vietnam’s EEZ.

    Therefore, I wonder how you could say with such certainty that “a negotiated maritime boundary in this area would likely place the rig within China’s EEZ”. At best, you can only say that this is a disputed area. And according to UNCLOS and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties that China signed with other countries in the region, the practice in a disputed area is to “exercise self-restraint” and not “hamper the reaching of a final agreement”. By unilaterally drilling in a disputed location, China clearly went against these codes of conduct.

    2. You said that “Vietnam’s current claim is seriously weakened by North Vietnam’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracels in 1958 and its lack of protest between 1958 and 1975.

    My argument: The problem is not that simple when it comes to an international court. For example, one can make a case that:

    a) The diplomatic note made by North Vietnam’s Prime Minister in 1958 is an unilateral, non-binding statement. The note did not recognize explicitly anything about Paracel Islands; it only stated that North Vietnam would respect China’s 12-nautical-mile territory waters.

    b) South Vietnam, the real and legal owner of Paracel Islands at the time did make strong protests.

    c) Because the diplomatic note has no legal obligation and the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam proceeded from both entities: North and South Vietnam, it inherited the sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly Islands.

    3. You said that “A number of governments, including the United States, have explicitly or implicitly recognised Chinese sovereignty over some or all of the islands.”

    My argument: I am not aware that the US recognized Chinese sovereignty over these islands, either explicitly or implicitly. Please bring in facts and try not creating ambiguity.

    1. This comment reflects Vietnamese unilateralism backed up by their fabricated narrative and denial facts, this irrational and greedy mentality that caused their aggressive behaviour and hard line positioning in South China Sea.

      Vietnamese blindly believe only they have the truth leads them into a dead end thought path that they prefer quarreling instead of honouring Part IX of UNCLOS, functional cooperation, this flawed mindset makes the Vietnamese embarked on a short-sighted unilateral sovereignty claims and risk a ‘win-lose’ outcome which caused the tensions and instability in the South China Sea.

      1. With all due respect sir/madame, Vietnam is not the one who started all this fiasco with an oil rig deployed in another country’s EEZ and continental shelf (or at the very least, an overlapping zone), Vietnam is certainly not the only backing its oil rig with a flotilla of ships, many of which are armed and constantly attack the other country’s ships and fishermen. “Greedy and aggressive” don’t seem to click here for Vietnam

        “Blindly believing in the truth” is when a country, considered a super-power of the world, uses terms to justify their actions which can be found nowhere in the law or so intentionally ambiguous that hardly anyone really understands what they mean.

        And if by “functional cooperation” you mean just standing by watching others come in and take whatever they want just because they are bigger, then, I guess there is a reason not to honour cooperation.

        I am just seriously just fascinated by the way you’re pointing you finger so vigorously at Vietnam, while not realizing that the other 4 fingers are pointing right back at you, or at China.

      2. Lots of labeling no doubt by self inspiration and Chinese patriotism however this fails to launch any argument nor substantiate any meaningful fact.

    2. Woody island can sustain human habitation or economic life of its own therefore it has exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf.

      The fact stands that China’s Sansha islands in which Woody island is part of already have Chinese inhabitants is within Chinese territory and therefore constitutes its own EEZ. Now that the HD-981 is 80 (or 103) miles off of Woody island is still within Chinese EEZ of 200 miles. Another fact is that the HD-981 is only 14 miles off the Triton island (which is part of Chinese’s territory Sansha islands) is indisputable within Chinese’s water therefore Vietnam’s has no business of.

      1. Below are a commentary in support of Vietnam’s position and Mr. Bateman’s response to that commentary:



        After reading Mr. Bateman’s reply and re-reading this article, I’d say that Mr. Bateman may have had a good will when he asserted that all parties would be better off seeking cooperation and peace instead of insisting on their claims, as shown in the third part of this article.

        However, his erroneous facts in the first and second paragraphs have led to the implications that Vietnam is more to be blamed for not seeking cooperation, and that Vietnam is making a fuss about a location more likely to be placed within China’s EEZ in maritime delimitation. Although conceding some of his errors, Mr. Bateman still argued that “the impact of this oversight is marginal and does not affect my basic concerns.” I do not agree with his excuse, for that the errors were not “marginal”. The way they were presented in the first and second paragraphs made clear implications and could have impacted readers’ judgements on the problem.

  2. Thank you for a very accurate and concise rebuttal. The author of this article obviously does not have all the facts.

  3. May I make a few comments concerning the silence of North Vietnam leaders when China invaded the Paracels in 1974 at the closing days of the Vietnam War in 1975. Hanoi felt wise to keep mum otherwise had they made noises, China would be compelled to go on seizing all the other islands and there is not much Hanoi can do at the time having their hands full with unifying the country being the top priority, as a result Vietnam still holds on to some islands in the Spratly. Before that Hanoi was groveling before China asking for help to defeat the americans and having to make all sorts of promises without any intention to fulfill. The diplomatic note by former PM Pham van Dong was considered made under duress and no treaty was signed, therefore considered invalid.

    1. First, you are right that without China’s help in the past, Vietnam would have owned no islands instead of 29. Unlimited greed has overtaken logic and reasoning.

      Second, international politics is no child play. Vietnam’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly cannot be denied. The fact is: China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters which “encompassed the Spratly and Paracel Islands” in 1958. North Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Pham Van Dong, sent a diplomatic note dated 14 Sept 1958 to Premier Zhou Enlai, stating that “The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam RESPECTS this decision.” Since North Vietnam was the victor in the civil war it is North Vietnam’s agreement with China that counts. In as much as one tries to dispute the ‘respect’, the fact that the respect was given by a prior prime minister of the said government adds evidence to support the claim.

  4. The media has reported an amusing story about Xi Jinping being outsmarted by Angela Merkel during his last visit to France, Germany & Belgium on end April/beginning May 2014. Merkel score two spectacular victories over Xi:

    1. Xi tried to use his visit to pressure Japan to admit guilt over atrocities committed in China during WWII. For that Xi cleverly asked Merkel to pay a visit to the memorial to the Holocaust victims of war. She quickly realizes the ruse and flatly declined and told him to go visit at his leisure. Xi laughed politely but feeling miffed and quite bitter inside.

    2. At the farewell dinner when it’s time to exchange souvenirs, Merkel gave Xi an ancient map of China, by French cartographers Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon painted in 1735, based on the geological survey by Jesuit missionaries, and was published in Germany a few years later.

    On the map marked “China Proper” (official Chinese) in which there is no Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Diaoyu, or the South China Sea, the islands of Taiwan and Hainan are painted with a different color, implying that the two islands are not entirely under the control of the Qing Dynasty then.

    The content on this map is contrary to the official position of the Xi government according to which, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Taiwan, Diaoyu, and the South China Sea are “historically irrefutable territory of China”.

    Moreover, details of the map exposed numerous problems. The map was drawn in 1735 in the year of Qianlong Emperor’s reign. He is a prominent figure in the Qing Dynasty, but have not been able to control the regions mentioned above, so how could it be called “historic territory since ancient times”, “inseparable “” irrefutable “.

    This means China’s assertion about sovereignty in the South China Sea is pure invention. Xi Jinping is more interested about establishing his legacy of expanding chinese territory to encompass this vast body of water, not just the Paracels.

  5. Vietnam also has frequent expositions of historical artefacts, ancient maps, ancient writings, testimony to Vietnamese continuous inhabitation of the Paracels and Spratly by fishing communities dating back to the 13th century. Chinese scholars concur with vietnamese counterparts that the map published by the Tang dynasty in 1904 in Shanghai before WWI is genuine and that Chinese territory is limited to Hainan island at its southernmost. That did not prevent Beijing authorities from distorting facts and inventing fictitious historical ownership.

    The PRC is like a thief using distraction to fleece its unsuspecting victim. Chinese aggressions follow a pattern: whenever a major event focuses world attention, that’s the time when China pounces. For example, whilst the Cuban missile crisis distracted world attention, China mounted an offensive against India in 1962 in the Himalaya and seized the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. China struck again against the former Soviet Union at the Amur River in 1969 whilst Gorbachev was busy extricating his country from Afghanistan. Again at the closing days of the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracels in 1974 when both North and South vietnamese were locked in conflict. Very recently this year, events in Crimea and Ukraine distracted world attention and allowed China to place the billion dollar oil rig in vietnamese territorial waters near the Paracels which China illegally occupied previously and which no country has recognized. The Paracels technically belong to Vietnam.

    China has been practicing Sun Tzu’s art of war, in striking when no one expects and consolidating the gains, that’s the tactics of silkworm nibbling away. Vietnam is a different class of adversary showing great resiliency, great staying power, wisdom of action waiting for China to make the first mistake. Vietnam will not be the one to blink first.

    1. Isn’t Vietnam doing the same in making use of the ‘pivot’?

      Grow up, will you? The facts are: Vietnam took part of the islands from ROC when it was weak. PRC took the part back and the islands become whole again.

  6. As exposed previously, China has no business being in the South China Sea. In 1979, China invaded the Paracels under the nose of the US, using 41 navy vessels to overwhelm the South Vietnamese whilst a US navy taskforce was in the vicinity but ordered to stand down. Even in the US Congress some senators had tabled a motion demanding no intervention. This happened at a period of Nixon overture to China, when the US was assiduously courting China to be on its side to fight the then common enemy, the USSR. One can surmise some deals may have been made between the two ertswhile enemies in selling out South Vietnam, with the Paracels being offered by the US as a bribe to entice China to keep its part of the deal. It was a shameful betrayal of an ally the US cannot take pride of. One can understand the situation the Nixon administration found itself in, with US public so tired of war. Mr Bateman would do a great service in carrying out research on this period to shed some light on what led to China invading the Paracels without US opposition.

  7. To Dr. Sam Bateman,
    First of all, I must say in advance that I am a Vietnamese. One may say I am biased toward Vietnam, but my arguments below as you may see are based on facts and international law, which can be verified easily. I would like to share 2 comments on your article.
    1) The rig is placed at the distance of about 103 nautical miles from the Woody Island, not 80 nautical miles as you claimed. Based on the wrong fact, you reached a wrong conclusion concerning the weight or effect of an island in the case of maritime delimitation. In addition, I totally agree with Trang Vu concerning her argument on the weight/effect of an islands in the case of maritime delimitation. The most recent example is the case between Nicaragua and Colombia which the International Court of Justice delivered its judgment in 2012; the situation in this case is similar to that of the Paracels.
    2) You also said that “Vietnam claims that because the rig is closer to its mainland coast than to China’s and well inside 200 nautical miles of its coast, it lies within its EEZ and on its continental shelf.” Vietnam has never used such argument that the waters in question “is closer to its mainland” so it has rights over the waters. In the official statements of the Vietnamese MOFA, Vietnam argues that the rig is at the distance of 120 nautical miles from its coast and thus it lies within its 200 nautical mile EEZ and continental shelf, to which every coastal state is entitled according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Your statement seems more like an assumption which obviously is not well-grounded.

    Above are my comments, I would like to draw your attention to some pieaces of information which if you have used them, your article may have been considered as more objective.
    Concerning the oil rig event, in the official statements of the Chinese MOFA, it said that the rig is carrying out normal operations “totally within waters off its Xisha Islands” (on May 6) or “in the China’s territorial sea”, or “in the waters south to Zongjian Island” (on May 12), and recently “in waters under Chinese jurisdiction” (on May 22). Those are all that China officially says about the location of the rig until now.
    I must say that all these statements are ambiguous and has no legal basis. First, according to the UNCLOS 1982, the territorial sea does not exceed 12 nautical miles. There is no island or mainland at this distance around the rig; the closest island is Triton Island which is about 17 nautical miles (not 14 nautical miles as you claimed). So the rig cannot be in any territorial sea which may be lawfully established in conformity with the Convention.
    Second, the statements explaining the rig is in “the waters off Xisha Islands” or “the waters off the Zongjian Islands”. These are absolutely ambiguous and unclear. Reading with the statement on May 22, China seems to consider the waters in question is its EEZ or continental shelf. Evem if this is the case, the rig is operating in an overlapping area of EEZs and continental shelves of Vietnam and China; the rig is 120 nautical miles to the coast of Vietnam, 180 nautical miles to Hainan Islands, and 103 nautical miles to Woody Island.
    In such overlapping area, pending delimitation between Vietnam and China, UNCLOS obliges both states to make every effort to enter into a provisional measure of practical nature, in the spirit of understanding and cooperation (Article 74(3) and 83(3)). In the case between Suriname v Guyana, the Arbitral Tribunal under Annex VII of the UNCLOS held that Guyana violated the above obligation when it issued a license to an oil company to drill in an overlapping EEZ and continental shelve of two states without directly informing Suriname in advance. The Tribunal also held that Guyana should have informed directly the detailed plan of drilling to Suriname in advance, and offered Suriname opportunities to involve in the drill activities such as sharing financial benefits or information.
    The rig is in the overlapping EEZ and continental shelf as in the above case, and there is no delimitation in the area until now. China has not directly informed Vietnam in advance; Vietnam only knew the drilling plan from the website of a Chinese agency. China did not offer Vietnam any opportunity to involve in the activities. Using the same logic as the above Tribunal, China violated its obligation under Article 74(3) and 83(3) of the UNCLOS.
    Moreover, the unilateral activities of China has caused the tension, and thus it also violated another obligation under the above Article 74(3) and 83(3) – the obligation to make every efforts not to jeopardize or harm the reach of final agreement.
    In sum, while you may intend to diversify the discussion or provide a different point of view, you should check his facts carefully, and be more objective when telling “a different story”.

  8. Dear Dr. Sam,

    It was a surprise for me to learn that a respective research fellow from Australian National Centre would not understand the points from UNCLOS 1982 to claim that the Woody (Phu Lam) island should be entitled an EEZ and continental shelf.

    The definition of an island UNCLOS 1982 has made it very clear that there must have been a historical habitat living with all the natural conditions for that. The Woody island, with a less than 2sqm area, had been an inhabitat island in the history without water sources, lying in the centre of stormy area, and therefore is not and never satisfied the conditions of UNCLOS 1982 to be entitled an EEZ and continental shelf. Such island can only be entitled with 12 miles territorial sea.

    Moreover, when setting the boundary between a tiny island with a coastal state, even in the case of having habitat conditions, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has had reasonable practices to not grant EEZ to such islands. You can check the dispute bet ween Romania and Ukraine over Snake island in 2009.


    One more example of not claiming EEZ of tiny islands is the Bach Long Vy island in setting sea boundary at Tonkin gulf between Vietnam and China. The Bach Long Vy island (1.7-3 sqm2 area) was mutually recognized at a non-island subject due to the lack of water source (found only in 1920). Therefore, no EEZ or continental shelf were considered in the 200 agreement.


    Secondly, it seems that you never have done any homework, when claim that the Woody island is not a disputing island. UNCLOS 1982 has given very clear definition of that. At presence, the Woody island has been claimed by both Vietnam, China and Taiwan. Vietnam is the only country which got an official UN recognition of sovereignty of the Paracel Islands in the Treaty of San Francisco (1951).

    In summary, I am giving the fundamental logical facts that any high school student could understand, but it seems unaware to you,

    (1) The rig is placed 120 miles from Vietnam coast and 180 miles from China Hainan island’s coast. Therefore, taking into account the median practice in setting see boundary from ICJ, the place is obviously lied on Vietnam EEZ and far from the must-be boundary.

    (2) The Woody island as well as all the islands in Paracel Islands, did not have habitat living as well as water sources and therefore can not considered as islands according to the UNCLOS 1982 and practice setting from I International Court of Justice (ICJ). Those islands can only entitled 12 miles of territorial sea. taking into account the nearest distance of 17 miles from Triton island to the rig, it is obviously that the rig lies outside the 12 miles territorial sea and its place is totally in the Vietnam EEZ.

    (3) More that that, the Paracel islands are disputing, since it has been claimed by 3(2) countries in the area with only Vietnam got an official UN recognition of sovereignty, according to the Treaty of San Francisco (1951). Once recognized as disputing islands, even the 12 miles territorial seas are not granted to those islands.

    (4) Note that, in the past, China never claimed EEZs for those disputing islands. It has started only since 2011. This is obviously a provocative act generating big tensions in the area.

    I suggest that you should carefully check all the backgrounds before publishing a such non-logical opinion.

  9. The Vietnamese are trying to argue away Pham Van Dong’s diplomatic note on conceding China’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly.
    China’s Sept 4, 1958 declaration specifically states that her declaration of sovereignty includes the Paracel and the Spratly.
    Pham Van Dong sent a diplomatic note on Sept 14, 1958 (and this is direct quote and translation) “to recognize and instruct all government ministries to comply with this decision”.
    Not only that, this note was widely printed and circulated in then official newspapers in Hanoi.
    This short note recognizes China’s declaration in its entirety. And China’s declaration includes a list of territories in which the Paracel and the Spratly are included.
    Let me ask all Vietnamese this question:
    If the situation were reversed in that China’s PM had sent an identical note to VN, would VN say it’s invalid today? Of course not. So there you have it.
    Vietnamese argument is just that, argument.
    The Vietnamese parliament did not object to the note for 56 years, the Vietnamese Communist Party did not object to the note for 56 years, and the VN government certainly did not object to the note for 56 years. So what more proof do you need?
    And don’t forget that the North VN never recognized the South Vietnam government and the so-called “South VN” government is no longer existent.
    Since the current VN government is the successor government of North VN. So whatever the then North VN government said, it applies to the current VN government.

  10. If the Chinese and Bateman believe Paracel islands and the location of the rig is China’s territory, then let’s bring the case to International Court of Justice. Let’s stop wasting out time debating here.

    Why is China so afraid of the international court? If China legally owns the sea and its islands, then don’t be coward. Let settle it in court. I am sure the Vietnamese people will not protest China anymore if the court award the sea and the islands to China.

    1. Why would you want someone else to decide on something you are certain that it’s yours. Why would you want to go from 100% certainty to a 50/50 chance?
      On the other hand, if your belief is not 100%, you’ve got nothing to lose by going to court since there’s a 50/50 chance you could win, regardless of the facts.
      Above all, why on earth would anyone want to hand over the fate of an entire nation to some strangers. Strangers who you don’t know deep down what their political inclinations are, unless as I said, your belief in your cause is not 100% so a 50/50 chance looks very good indeed.

      1. Why would you need judges and justice systems? Why don’t murderers give themselves death penalties or prison terms they deserve? Of course all murderers are certain they are on the right; just like China!

        China took the island by force, that is an undeniable fact. She does not want to have the issues arbitrated because she has no confidence in her claims.

        1. IF China goes by its own rule, China will be ridiculed as “Not following international rule”
          If China goes to UN to resolve the issue, “Why care about the justice system? if you are 100% certain the island belongs to you.”

          So what should China do?

  11. Dear Nguoi Trung Quoc,

    Sovereignty of Paracel islands is a separated issue and not related to the current discussion.

    Even the China’s Sept 4, 1958 declaration only claims 12 miles territorial sea from the islands.

    The HD-981 is placed in the location which is far outside the 12 miles of islands territorial sea, deep into Vietnam’s EEZ and is obviously a violence from all international laws point of views.

    If Vietnam chooses to submit the complain to International Court of Justice, it’s sure to have 100% chance to win the case.

  12. @Dr.Tran
    “Sovereignty of Paracel islands is a separated issue and not related to the current discussion.”

    Not really. If the Paracels belong to China as conceded by VN in Pham Van Dong’s diplomatic note, then the oil rig is situated within China’s 200-nautical-mile EEZ. If VN has already recognized China’s sovereignty over the Woody Island since the Woody Island is part of the Paracels, then China is entitled to the 200-mile EEZ where the oil rig is situated. If VN wants to refute China’s claim, you must be able to prove that the Woody Island within the Paracels does not qualify to be called an island based on UNCLOS.

    “Even the China’s Sept 4, 1958 declaration only claims 12 miles territorial sea from the islands.”

    It sounds like you agree that China has the 12-mile sovereignty sea. From there, China has every right to draw the 200-mile EEZ based on that 12-mile territorial sea under UNCLOS.

    “The HD-981 is placed in the location which is far outside the 12 miles of islands territorial sea, deep into Vietnam’s EEZ and is obviously a violence from all international laws point of views.”

    But your logic is flawed. The most you can say is that there is an overlap between China’s legitimate EEZ drawn from the Woody Island (which VN has conceded that it belongs to China according to PVD’s diplomatic note), and VN’s EEZ drawn from its coastlines. But the oil rig HD981 is not even situated within the overlapped area.

    “If Vietnam chooses to submit the complain to International Court of Justice, it’s sure to have 100% chance to win the case.”

    If VN has already conceded that China owns the Paracels, and therefore China is entitled to draw the 200-mile EEZ, why would China want to subject itself to any court decision? That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?
    The only way VN can fight against China in this case is to be able to prove that the Woody Island is not an island under UNCLOS. But it would be impossible since China actually has residents and a functioning municipal government on the island.

    Case closed.

  13. @Nguoi Trung Quoc,

    It seems that you know very well your weakness and just try to lure attentions to the PVD’s diplomatic note, which is not relevant to the discussion here.

    From your statement, it is clear that you neither carefully read nor understand the UNCLOS 1982. It has stated clearly that, the island to be entitled with EEZ and continental shelf must have a historical habitat living conditions. All the islands in Paracels were inhabitant, without water sources and are placed in the center of stormy area and hence can not have either EEZ or CS to be possibly overlapped with Vietnam coastal EEZ.

    Look at the example of Bach Long Vy island in Tonkin gulf, if it was considered as an UNLOS’s island, the sea boundary between China and Vietnam should be set between that island to the China coastal, not the median line as mutually agreed by Vietnam and China in 2000.

    Now if you talk about the sovereignty of Paracel islands. So where is the legal document proved that belongs to China? Understand that the islands were illegally seized by force and has been under China control since 1974. But Vietnam is indeed the only country who has got a legal recognition of the Paracel’s sovereignty from UN by the Treaty of San Francisco (1951). So by the same UNCLOS, the islands’ status should be disputing and hence even 12 miles territorial seas are not granted.

    In any case, the location of rig is 120 miles from Vietnam coast and 180 miles from China’s Hainan coast, so it is obviously that it is placed far inside the Vietnam’s EEZ.

    So, this is very clear that, China has been violating the international laws by placing the rig in the fully Vietnam EEZ and such actions should be sued to the international court of justice (ICJ).

  14. “It seems that you know very well your weakness and just try to lure attentions to the PVD’s diplomatic note, which is not relevant to the discussion here.”

    But aren’t you just trying to avoid talking about PVD’s note. It does not matter what historical materials VN has, VN has officially forfeited its ownership right (if there was ever any) by having openly declared that VN agrees with China’s declaration, in its entirety, of China’s sovereignty claims of the Paracels and the Spratlys.

    If VN so strongly believe in its historical rights, why would you ever want to openly and officially declare that you agree with your opponents’ claims?

    “But Vietnam is indeed the only country who has got a legal recognition of the Paracel’s sovereignty from UN by the Treaty of San Francisco (1951).”

    Go read up on the original copy of the treaty yourself (and not someone else’s interpretation of it) so you can see for yourself before uttering such nonsense. In addition, both ROC (Taiwan) and PRC (China) were not part of the treaty signatories and countries can’t be bound by a treaty for which they have never signed. Not only that, they have lodged objections to it. The treaty is meant for the defeated (i.e. Japan).

    “So by the same UNCLOS, the islands’ status should be disputing and hence even 12 miles territorial seas are not granted.”

    UNCLOS has NO, repeat after me, NO, jurisdiction over sovereignty matters. It only has jurisdiction over maritime disputes among UNCLOS countries, exclusive of sovereignty matters. For example, UNCLOS has jurisdiction to decide whether Woody island is an island under UNCLOS, but it has NO, absolutely NO authority to decide who has sovereignty over it.

    Somehow you, yourself have decided that Woody Island is not an island under UNCLOS. That’s really hilarious. Sure there are landmasses within the Paracels that are not inhabitable so they can not be used to claim EEZ. But Woody Island is habitable and it can be used by China to claim EEZ. Taiping island is habitable and Taiwan can use it to claim EEZ to prevent VN from intruding into it. China is OK for Taiwan to claim EEZ.

    China took back the Paracels by force in 1974 because South VN had occupied it illegally to begin with. The US was eyewitness to the takeover and did not object to it.

    Both China and VN have made claims based on history. But only VN has officially and openly signed a memorandum to recognize China’s claims and hence has forfeited all its rights, if there was ever any.

    I am familiar with all the arguments that Vietnamese have tried to make, and they don’t amount to much.

  15. @Nguoi Trung Quoc,

    Again, without deep knowledge of UNCLOS and international laws, you tried to lure the discussion on the PVD’s note which is not the topic of this discussion. We should come back to that later.

    What I have said is very clear: all the islands in Paracel were never and could not be entitled with EEZ and CS. The conditions are too clear: historically living population with habitat conditions. All those islands, without water and lying in stormy centre, are inhabitant in the past. The EEZ is not for China or Vietnam to grant, it needs to be submitted and approved by UNCLOS.

    I did never say the UNCLOS would give the jurisdiction over sovereignty matters. But it does give rules over disputing islands which are the ones in the Paracels. Once islands are disputing, according to UNCLOS, the 12 miles territorial seas won’t be internationally recognized.

    The absent of China in the Treaty of San Francisco (1951) can not change the legal fact that UN did officially recognize the Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracels islands.

    The example you gave is totally wrong because the total population of the Taiping island nowadays is about 600 with no civilians,


    and hence no EEZ could have been legally granted to such island.

    Instead, look at my example of Bach Long Vy island, both Vietnam and China were mutually agreed to not consider it as an island due to the lack of water source (found only in 1920) hence no EEZ was taken into account into setting sea boundary In 2000. That is a clear example of setting sea boundary with the presence of offshore islands and with China consent as well.

    Your guys seem do not know how to debate in an internationally civilized manners.

    Your current level of knowledge is no more than that of secondary school student and I have no time to keep discussing with such low level people on this matter.
    I suggest you should do a lot home works, learn the fundamental knowledge of international laws, of UNCLOS before continuing this discussion.

  16. @Tran
    “…Your guys seem do not know how to debate in an internationally civilized manners.
    Your current level of knowledge is no more than that of secondary school student and I have no time to keep discussing with such low level people on this matter…”

    Anyone who can read English and has followed these threads so far can see that my above quotes (of your own words) are exactly your description of your personal characters, without my having to say a single word. Thank you.

    It’s so funny that one can use Wikipedia to talk about sovereignty issues. You have not read the original text of the San Francisco treaty, have you? Or UNCLOS? or China’s Exemption declarations when joining UNCLOS? And somehow you think you can judge matters on behalf of UNCLOS – declaring which part is or is not island all by …yourself! LOL.

    I responded to your “arguments” point by point. All you can do is to quote Wikipedia (LOL) and act in an ad hominem manner. I am not sure you even know that Wikipedia has absolutely NO PLACE in sovereignty debates. Only original documents can be referenced. But if you want to reference original documents, you must have read them first.

    How about reading PVD’s original text supporting China’s (original text on her) declaration of sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys? That would be a good start.

    Remember, the title of Sam Bateman’s article here is “..whose sovereignty over Paracels?”

  17. @ nguoi Trung Quokka

    Wikipedia is more than enough to disprove all statements at your level.

    Now, read this


    For the first time, the United States government has come out publicly with an explicit statement that the so-called “nine-dash line,” which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan assert delineates their claims in the South China Sea, is contrary to international law. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on February 5, said, “Under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features. Any use of the ‘nine-dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights NOT based on claimed LAND features would be inconsistent with international law. The international community would welcome China to clarify or adjust its nine-dash line claim to bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea.”

    It is useless to discuss with bad guys, who just intentionally try to misinterpret the points (UNCLOS) to take advantages of the neighboring countries.

    Let see you at the International Court of Justice.

  18. @Tran
    Good luck to quote Wikipedia in a court of law. You will be laughed out the room. Using Wiki for Internet entertainment is OK. In a court of law, you must be kidding?

    Now, read this comment right on Eurasia, from a pro-VN Australian analyst, who is well known and often quoted by the VN media when he’s supporting VN, but now read this.
    “Carlyle Thayer
    May 31, 2014 at 12:16 am
    Mr Giang writes, “Under the 1954, the Geneva Agreement on Korean Peninsula and Indochina, which China was also one of the signatory party.” There were four agreements at the Geneva Conference, three related to ceasefires in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and an unsigned Final Declaration. As far as I am aware there was no Geneva Agreement on Korean Peninsula and Indochina which any party signed. I am willing to stand corrected.”

    Carlyle Thayer said he is “willing to stand corrected” for what he knows that “there was NO Geneva Agreement on Korean Peninsula and Indochina …”

    So are you ready to take up Carlyle Thayer’s challenge to prove him wrong? But before you do, do two things: (1) stay away from Wikipedia and (2) repeat after me: “… there was NO Geneva agreement on Korean Peninsula and Indonesia”.

    Chuck Hagel the US Secretary of Defence has been openly rebuffed by the Chinese Vice Chair of PLA General Staff today at the Shangri-La meeting where they both attended. And you’re quoting an assistant secretary of state!! LOL.

    Also at S-L yesterday, General Phung Quang Thanh the Minister of Defence of VN refers to China as VN’s friend, despite the fact that he mentioned disagreements between China and VN. The US and Japanese hawks all almost fell off their chairs! They all thought his speech was going to be harsher on China than the US and Japan. All these hawks must feel very disappointed now.

    You should read Duong Danh Huy’s article right here on Eurasia. He’s much more, way more, knowledgeable than you and he never quoted Wikipedia because he knows it’s stupid to quote Wikipedia if he wants to be taken seriously.

  19. Sam Bateman was incorrect on the issue of the Paracels. He forgot to mention the short but bloody naval battle on January 19, 1974 under the direct command of Mao Zedong, Zhu Enlai, and the PLA Military Party Commission to occupy the eastern group of the Paracels. A South Vietnamese escort ship was destroyed; and about three dozens of South Vietnamese sailors were killed. Thereafter, the Foreign Minister of the RVN strongly protested but Mao didn’t respond and the PLA has illegally occupied the Paracels ever since. So, is it a clear title?
    Also, there were no historical evidence about the Chinese false claims of sovereignty over the East Ocean which was wrongly given incorrect and alien names. Let take an example. According to Sima Qian’s Shiji [Historical Records], as early as the year 1100 BC, the Chinese already guided the Yueshang ambassador from Shensi to Funan, Linyi and then Yueshang, along the sea coast. Unfortunately, Funan was to be built up around the year 100 AD, nearly two centuries after Sima’s completion of his famous work. Furthermore, Funan situated south of Linyi–the Yueshang ambassador should have reached Linyi before Funan. Another example was Ma Yuan’s legendary Bronze Pillar(s) which were often used to force ancient Viet Nam to cede to the Chinese imperialist territorial claims, from the Song to the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
    Xi Jinping and the Chinese Standing Politburo should be dragged before the international courts for their aggression and war crimes.

  20. When it comes to China’s 9 to 10 dash line map, Sam Bateman has always spun false narrative in the style of Xinhua essays which has made him one of those China’s spin Doctor.

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